The high price of college textbooks is well known. The commonly cited statistic claims that their prices have risen over 186% (about twice the rate of inflation) between 1986 and 2004, and there are a number of reasons for this substantial price hike.
For example, until recent legislation changed circumstances, most professors were unaware of how much students were paying for the textbooks they were assigned. Time Magazine accurately described this phenomenon, in which professors require students to purchase textbooks for their classes while being blind to the costs of these books, as “a broken market.”
So when you consider the fact that the average student spends somewhere between $700 and $1100 on textbooks each year, it’s no surprise that college students are exploring all options when it comes to saving money on this expense.
One such trend is college students’ widespread refusal to purchase the most recent editions of textbooks. Depending on the subject and on your professor’s specific requirements, purchasing an older edition could be a great way for you to save money. Below you will find the top three reasons why purchasing an older edition of a textbook is generally a perfectly acceptable thing to do:
1. You’ll save big.
By purchasing an older edition of your textbook, you stand to save yourself cash – lots of cash. For example, a search on Half.com, a popular textbook purchasing website, for a randomly selected textbook called Theatre: Collaborative Acts returned three editions, each published three years apart. The most recent edition retailed at around 91 dollars new, and the second most recent edition retailed for 75 cents, a savings of around 99%. While the costs will vary widely depending on the textbook, the number of editions, and the amount of time between editions, the savings are certainly nothing to sniff at.
Use the Textbook Town price comparison tool to view the price range for the textbook you’re searching for.
2.The content is probably the same.
The sad truth is, textbook publishers know the differences in price between different editions of textbooks, and they exploit these price differences mercilessly. The publishing companies are required to make very, very few changes in order to market a textbook as a new edition, and in some cases, they don’t add any content at all that is truly “new.” They are able to satisfy these technicalities by adding a picture, rewording passages, transferring a picture to a different page, or changing a subtitle heading, among other strategies.
It should be noted here that some subjects actually do have frequent and legitimate updates in information, including many of the sciences, and in these subjects, it is sometimes best to purchase the newest edition of the textbook. But in other subjects, like ancient history, for example, the available information has changed very little in the past few years, so publishing new editions was probably unnecessary.
3. You can borrow when necessary.
In the event that the new edition of your textbook actually does contain some updated information, it could still be a smart choice for you to purchase the older edition. Remember that most of the information will be identical, so your older edition serve you very well the majority of the time, but in the rare instances where you need updated information that is absent from your copy, it is usually very easy to obtain it. Borrowing from other students is the obvious choice. Asking to use another student’s textbook to photocopy or take notes on a short section that is not included in your own book is certainly not intrusive, so most students will be happy to oblige. Besides this source, your campus library usually has a copy of each semester’s textbooks on hand, and even if the book is only available for temporary use in the library, you can always photocopy the parts that you need. Even your professor would probably be happy to lend you their copy of the book for a short time.
If you have any doubts about whether an older edition of a textbook will be appropriate for class, do some research. Search the internet for specifics about what updates are included in the new edition, and see what users of online textbook sites have said. Finally, unless your professor has authored the book for your class (in which case they’ll probably encourage you to purchase the newer, more expensive version), you can always consult them for advice regarding which edition you’ll actually need.